(The) Defining Pro

What does ‘professional’ mean to you? Below, Dwight and Jessica opened discussion on Do/Design-It-Yourself. In short (at least by me), visual literacy = super/great/wonderful—bring on more of it now and always for all and every. But their discussion raises the question and possibly the bar for what it means to be a ‘professional’ designer? What does being a Pro mean? Does this word simply set up contradictions and conflicts for what it means to be ‘professional’ or somehow achieve a status/state of the professional in a field such as design—or dare we say art? Is it a dangerous word-concept for a host of possible reasons (please speculate) or one that is a useful notion of a value/skill threshold no matter how ever-changing it may be?

posted by Tony Brock on March 26, 2006 | comments: 6 | post a comment

let's get this party started, yo?

i do think the word 'professional' as most people understand it is problematic because in a strict sense it means one gets paid for a service, but for most people, there are connotations that take the word way beyond that point. we all have experienced 'professional' grocery baggers or other so-called corporate 'associates' that are simply there for the paycheck. they do not exhibit any sort of Professional behavior, which is where the connotations come in -- internal motivation and desire to perform well, strong base of knowledge in the subject matter, eager to help others by putting their skill and knowledge to use, a sense of ethics within their job context, etc.

to me, being a Professional means those things without necessarily having official validation for said 'Professionalism'. a piece of paper won't change what i can or can not see firsthand in the person's knowledge, abilities, and actions.

i think it's dangerous because it sets up a largely artificial threshold / boundary that creates hierarchy. usually any such threshold is closely linked to ability to afford the means to cross it (making it classist) and the criteria for its establishment will always be changing with the demands of the field, and probably always behind the times.

it's probably best left to each individual to determine what Professional (in a personal 'this is truly meaningful' sense) -- as opposed to 'professional' in any official aiga-like sense -- means. as before, i think it has to do with internal motivation to perform, strong knowledge base, willingness to help/share, and ethical sensitivity.

but that's just me. what does everyone else think? what does it mean to you seniors trying to go out and find work? will your sense of 'professional' match up with your potential employers?

Posted by tyler on March 30, 2006 08:58 AM

so, i'm not a student at ncsu yet.. but i'll be there in the fall.
with the risk of making no sense, i'll try to add my $0.02 to this as I find this topic truly interesting.
Interesting not only because it questions our personal definition of "professional", but I also think it seems to suggest that there is a possible difference between what it means to be a designer vs. a professional designer. Is there really a difference? if so, what?

I want to believe that it's just more than current employment. I too define being "professional" as an integration of real world experience, sets of morals, solid sets of skills, employment ("the paycheck"), sense of responsibility for one's field, understanding of this field's impact on society, economy, government and environment, and knowledge of the field. I agree with the fact that we should all frame our own definition for "professional", especially in order to be able to use it as a reference and challenge ourselves to be better.

AIGA states "A professional designer adheres to principles of integrity that demonstrate respect for the profession, for colleagues, for clients, for audiences or consumers, and for society as a whole."
So then, who are designers? I personally think it adds a little confusion, to the already confusing definition of the word "design", to which many diverge.

Posted by valentina on March 31, 2006 03:04 PM

There is a big difference between knowing how to design and understanding what you are designing, I think a professional not only knows how to design but understands what he is designing.

Posted by dwight on April 5, 2006 09:38 AM

Well, all legality aside, a PRO is someone who people seek out. If designers or classmates or whoever are looking to you for information or solutions, you are a PRO! Be a PRO and fight for insight.

Posted by ANNAW on April 5, 2006 12:54 PM

Some definitions:

Professional means meeting certain certifiable standards, such as being a "professional architect" means that you have certification that allows you to practice. This is both a way to ensure that people meet specific educational standards so that they won't build things that collapse and kill people (mulholland's dam), and a way to preserve a "guild" -- you have to meet these standards, have this type of education to be one of us.

Professional is a set of behaviors that is expected between a client and the individual providing a service. This is not at all standard, instead it is bound by tradition and culture. What is professional in South Dakota may not be professional in Brazil.

Professional is a term of exclusion. It is intended to provide a metric to separate amateurs, "serious amateurs" and those who have made their chosen profession (note the base of the word)their focus.

Professional is whatever a group decides it is; what it is not is kept out. It is a way to ensure income; "I am a professional, I have worked hard to get here, you should hire me over that 17 year old that hasn't even graduated from high school because I have experience and maturity." It comes back to haunt us when it is clear that the 17 year old is considered by some to be a graphic designer, selling designs drawn on skateboards with sharpie markers for $$.

I am not a professional designer. Sometimes I hope to never become one, because that means that what I have done is become so commonplace that no one thinks twice about it -- it is professional.

Non-professional typically irritates people. "I could have painted that" someone says while viewing Jackson Pollock's "Lavender Mist".

Music struggles with this too. There are formal schools for learning music, there are unions, and certainly some forms of professional music performance are bound to educational accreditation, but most of it is illegitimate bastard noise.

Has this been a bad thing for commercial music, letting the rank amateurs compete with the "pros"? People sometimes forget how revolutionary rock and roll really was -- it was not just the music itself, but the idea that "non-professional" musicians could play music and become quite wealthy....and in fact, the very unprofessionalism was what makes it exciting.

My brief experience with Graphic Design is that it is scared as hell of this possibility, even though it has been happening for a while now. Terms like legitimacy are bandied about -- professionalism becomses less about an attitude than simply a club. The term "professional graphic designer" is reduced to a check list of terms, behaviors, readings and a secret handshake.

Not to sound too frustrated.......


Posted by hal meeks on June 23, 2006 01:38 PM

I haven't much time to give a full-bodied reply to this because I am at work and as busy as a bee. Believe it or not, professionalism in this field can be reached!! Man oh man do you have to love it. If you are not thinking about design 24/7...if you are not observing composition, craft, and context in your every day lives...DANGER WILL ROBINSON

Anyway...practice makes perfectly. Think of your professor as the producer and your audience as the client (this is production-world talk).


Posted by Wes Richardson on August 29, 2006 01:15 PM